There was something about Crocs that really bugged Randy “R Dub!” Williams to his core. A slow jams DJ based in San Diego, Williams felt like someone should outlaw those atrocious shoes, but how? Who would ever listen to the decree of a modest R&B DJ? Eventually, Williams hit upon the solution: start his own independent micronation, name himself a sultan, and take action to protect his citizenry from the scourge of Crocs.
He called this place Slowjamastan.
Located in California’s Colorado Desert 14 miles southwest of the Salton Sea, Slowjamastan is one of the world’s newest micronations—or nations of any kind, for that matter. Ruled over by Sultan Williams, who spins romantic tunes on his internationally syndicated radio show Sunday Night Slow Jams on San Diego’s Magic 92.5 FM, where he’s also the program director, Slowjamastan is one of hundreds of actual micronations around the world.
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The full name of Williams’s micronation is the United Territories of the Sovereign Nation of the People’s Republic of Slowjamastan, which he describes as “a dictatorship (on most days).” Anyone can apply to become a citizen for free, purchase a passport, or buy and name a state for the low, low price of $1,999. As of August 6, the day Williams spoke at MicroCon 2022, a Las Vegas conference dedicated to micronationalism, Slowjamastan had 422 citizens in 28 (recognized) countries.
Williams created his micronation on paper and online on August 18, 2021. The only problem? He didn’t yet own any land. The sultan purchased an 11.07-acre piece of sandy, barren desert on October 4 of that year for $19,000 and held a groundbreaking on November 11. Slowjamastan was proclaimed a sovereign nation on December 1 with a seven-word document that read simply, “We hereby declare independence! God bless Slowjamastan!” (The U.S. Declaration of Independence, by comparison, is 1,337 words.)
Ready-made for Instagram, Slowjamastan’s borders are marked by signs warning of land mines. The micronation also has an actual border checkpoint, a flagpole, a pay phone, and a new presidential desk to replace the one that was stolen.
There are laws, too: among other things, you must eat string cheese by pulling off strings, no feet on dashboards, and, most important, no Crocs allowed. The nation’s official language is English with GFA (General Foreign Accent).
All are welcome within its borders. “One of the most important things is we are a nation that is very inclusive,” Williams explains. “What we have found is that people all over the world are having fun with us. It is a group to belong to; it is camaraderie. Slowjamastan can also be whatever you want it to be.”
It may seem like make-believe, but micronation-building is a very real thing. At a time when so many people feel alienated from their native nations, forming their own may be one way to create something that reflects their personal beliefs and maintain some control in an increasingly chaotic world.
“A quick search of the Internet for ‘micronations’ will open the door to a mostly unknown world that exists—like an alternate dimension—parallel with the world we inhabit,” writes Travis McHenry, the grand duke of Westarctica, in a self-published political memoir about his micronation. “There are more micronations than recognized countries.”
Tiny, invented sovereign states have existed all over the world since antiquity. So have self-proclaimed leaders, like Joshua Abraham Norton of San Francisco, who declared himself emperor of the United States in 1859 and became one of the first in a long line of world-renowned eccentrics the city has produced. Modern micronations began cropping up in the 1960s, starting with Sealand and Rose Island, each on a human-made platform off the coasts of the United Kingdom and Italy, respectively.
Micronations really started proliferating in the 1990s and 2000s, thanks to the internet, which enabled people to become “citizens” of places they might never visit. Some founders take their micronations more seriously than others. Others take micronations very seriously indeed.
Take McHenry of Westarctica. A Pennsylvania native who now lives in Las Vegas, McHenry is an actor who has appeared in films such as Body of Lies, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. McHenry also served in naval intelligence, where, he writes, he read in the classified version of the CIA World Factbook that “no formal claims have been made” to one-eighth of western Antarctica. McHenry claimed it for himself in 2001, calling it the Achaean Territory, later renaming it Westarctica.
In 2015, Westarctica was granted nonconsultative status as a nongovernmental organization by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the first micronation to receive such recognition. Westarctica now claims over 2,300 citizens. In the two decades since his nation’s founding, McHenry has yet to physically visit the place.
The Republic of Molossia, an early and influential micronation founded in 1977 by President Kevin Baugh, is located on 11.3 acres in northwestern Nevada. Molossia’s currency is based on chocolate chip cookie dough. Baugh is considered one of the founding fathers of the modern micronation movement. He even drafted the step-by-step guide “How to Start Your Own Micronation,” which includes practical advice about determining goals, setting up a “government,” launching a website, and gaining citizens.
Baugh’s advice to micronation founders is useful for all leaders, real and imagined: “Remember, you represent your nation at all times,” Baugh writes. “NATION. Not a cute little website that you call a nation. If you are going to play the game, play it right. Your purpose, whether serious or not, is to have your own country. Behave that way at all times, as if your nation were real.”
Not all micronations actually own land like Slowjamastan. Many are theoretical and exist solely on social media. Some just declare their backyard a sovereign state. Of course, so-called macronations, such as the United States, do not recognize micronations, but that’s not the point. Baugh says that micronationalists believe in the declarative theory of statehood, in which the political existence of a state is not dependent on recognition by other states.
To outsiders, micronation-building may seem like a LARP (live-action role-playing game), an overgrown kid’s fantasy of creating the ultimate clubhouse. But, really, what are nations if not a shared fantasy of borders, currencies, leaders with made-up titles, and loosely agreed-upon laws? Williams cites Taiwan and Vatican City, two sovereign—but disputed—nations. “What is a country?” he wonders.
As Baugh puts it, “We are real because we say we are.” (Translate that to Latin and you have a pretty good national slogan.)
On August 4 through 7, 2022, Westarctica hosted the fourth biennial MicroCon at Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall in Las Vegas. A hundred diplomats, many dressed to the nines in the regalia of kings, presidents, dictators, chancellors, emperors, barons, and other heads of state from 30 micronations, gathered in a conference room to hear presentations on various aspects of micronationalism, learn about one another’s countries, and present awards. At times, it felt like a Model UN for adults, a collective delusion willfully shared by people with the same voluntary disorder. The fun was infectious.
Each micronation’s display tables featured coins, banknotes, flags, stamps, and medals. Trinkets such as pins, passport stamps, and even branded condoms were given out. Mock Secret Service agents (hired by Williams) were stationed around the room wearing suits, earpieces, and sunglasses, lending the event a serious statecraft vibe.
MicroCon has grown since Molossia hosted the inaugural conference in 2015 in a small public rec room of the Anaheim Central Library. A handful of people attended that first gathering, but the movement—and the joke—has only grown since then. In 2023, there will be two conferences: the U.S. version, hosted by the Remony of Ladonia in Joliet, Illinois, from June 30 to July 2, and the first E.U. MicroCon, in Ypres, Belgium, from August 11 to 13.
At this year’s gathering, speakers’ topics varied from the silly to the serious. Queen Carolyn of Ladonia addressed succession planning. Part of her slideshow read, “What will happen to your micronation when you die?,” prompting giggles from the crowd.
“OK, laughter is not what I was going for,” the queen said. She laid out a deadly serious presentation on how to structure your micronation like a business, establish a process for the transfer of power, write out a constitution with a legally sound succession plan, and take into consideration assets such as real estate and intellectual property.
One speaker, Zaq Landsberg of Zaqistan, had bought two acres of land in Utah off eBay for $610 in 2005, during the George W. Bush administration, when he was looking for a way to disassociate from the United States. He also wanted to buy a piece of the American West “before it was all gone.” Landsberg sees Zaqistan as a conceptual art project, decrepit sculpture park, and sovereign nation all at the same time.
“Even if we’re doing it tongue in cheek, there’s a responsibility and a seriousness to what we do,” Landsberg said, relating an anecdote about Tibetan refugees who told him their Zaqistani citizenship was the only citizenship they had.
One micronation at the conference, the Ambulatory Free States of Obsidia, consists entirely of a two-pound volcanic obsidian rock, broken in two and carried around in a hot-pink and blue briefcase, on which a sign reads, “Please feel free to touch country.” The matriarchal micronation was founded by Carolyn Yagjian, an artist from Oakland.
Sultan Williams was inspired to create Slowjamastan after visiting Molossia in August 2021. “That actually planted the seed for us to make a micronation,” Williams says.
Born in Chicago, Williams grew up in Los Angeles and Orlando and moved to Tucson when he was 15. He fell in love with radio at a young age and developed a particular attachment to slow jams by artists like Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, and Keith Sweat.
“At a very young age, you understand, the sultan was a very romantic kid,” Williams explains in the third person. “The moment I heard my first slow jam show on the radio, at 13, I said, ‘I want to do that.’ ” He started DJing on a local AM station at 15 and hasn’t left radio since.
Traveling is another of Williams’s passions. He’s on a mission to visit every country in the world. He recently visited five countries in Africa and has just 10 countries left out of 193. When he’s not building his own nation, Williams is aiding others: a few years ago, he solicited donations from his radio listeners to build three clean-water wells in villages in Uganda and the Central African Republic.
Wherever he goes, however, Williams’s heart is in Slowjamastan, his self-invented homeland. When he found that property near the Salton Sea, it was love at first sight. Long a haven for artists, nonconformists, and others who wish to live apart from densely populated areas, the Salton Sea is an ideal location for Williams’s new country.
On the sea’s north shore, in the dilapidated former resort town of Bombay Beach, a group of artists led by filmmaker and Italian prince Tao Ruspoli has launched an artistic renaissance called the Bombay Beach Biennale, with temporary and permanent art installations. To the east are Salvation Mountain, an enormous work of art on the side of a parched hill by the late Leonard Knight, and Slab City, a nomadic art community where residents live rent-free in makeshift camps.
Slab City, a completely off-the-grid anarchist community, could realistically be called a real-world micronation, in everything but name. Instead of chocolate chip cookie dough, it runs on a barter economy. It operates under true self-governance, and its denizens mostly want to be left the hell alone by the outside world, which Slabbers call “the Beast.”
While the presidents, kings, and sultans are LARPing their own societies, Slabbers are pretty much doing it for real. While undeniably hardscrabble, the Slabber lifestyle is defined by a kind of freedom few of us will ever know.
Creating a micronation—even one with a physical location—may be a way to imagine escaping whatever its founders dislike about society at large, but even the most intricately conceived micronation is all fun and games compared with an experiment in radical independence like Slab City. Slowjamastan is in good company in the Salton Sea area.
As for Slowjamastan’s future, Williams is beginning to envision how he’ll improve his desert nation. He’s thinking about several infrastructure projects that will enhance its natural beauty and support its citizens—including a lazy river, an armadillo farm, and an all-you-can-eat Mongolian barbecue joint.
“As of now, these are just dreams on paper,” the sultan proclaims. “Will they happen? I don’t know. They say Rome was not built in a day.”•